Stopping Teacher Burnout (Greater Good)

The SMART-in-Education program helps teachers cope with rising academic demands and falling budgets.


Joan, a Bay Area elementary school teacher, was struggling with managing her fourth grade classroom, especially a student who wouldn’t stop speaking out of turn or bullying other students. She held it together during the day and then came home and yelled at her own kids. She came to doubt her ability to meet the ever-increasing demands placed on her by the double-whammy of budget cuts and rising academic mandates.

Seeking help, she signed up for the eight-week SMART-in-Education program, which I launched in 2008 to help teachers relax and manage their stress. There she discovered that she was not alone. In fact, she was facing the same kind of stress that leads nearly half of teachers to quit within their first five years on the job.

The SMART-in-Education program takes place over nine evenings and two Saturdays. It is based primarily on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, an evidence-based practice that emphasizes the cultivation of mindfulness, the moment-to-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations.

But SMART (which stands for Stress Management and Resilience Training) has added several components to the basic MBSR curriculum, in order to respond to the special demands put on teachers. Participants spend time exploring the inner geography of emotions, especially fear and anger. Using mindfulness tools such as meditation and body awareness, they develop the capacity to recognize, tolerate, and even transform challenging emotions into insight, self-acceptance, and vitality.

Participants also spend a great deal of time developing skills like kindnesscompassion, and forgiveness, through exercises and discussions tied into their actual experience in the classroom.

For example, when practicing with kindness and compassion, the teachers spend one week bringing to mind a challenging student and taking a few minutes in their home practice to silently send him or her wishes of kindness and well-being, such as “May Sam be happy, and feel loved,” or “May Sofi find peace in her heart, and develop her gifts.” Another week, they are invited to bring to mind a student they tend to overlook, who is neither delightful nor frustrating.

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Copyright © 2012 Greater Good Magazine


Want to learn more about mindfulness in education? On February 4-5, 2012, the University of California, San Diego, Center for Mindfulness will host a conference, Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth: Mindfulness in Clinical Practice, Education and Research.